See Chapter One for Disclaimer It scares me, when I think how she managed to fool us.
When Faith went over to the Mayor, there were days and days afterwards when she was with us, laughing, talking, pretending to be one of us. And all that time, there was this evil… thing, looking out at us from behind that face, and we didn't see it. Imagine that! Us! We were used to watching out for that kind of thing, you know? I mean; we weren't rookies anymore; we'd been doing the Scooby Gang vs. the Bad Guys thing for a couple of years by then. But she was there, (when she was there) right there among us, and at any moment she could have killed any one of us (except Buffy, obviously) with less effort than it takes me to untie my shoe.
I guess we believed Buffy when she said that it would be okay; that Faith really was sorry about the death of the Deputy Mayor. But Buffy was wrong about that. She was fooling herself; she wanted so much to have Faith there, even when Buffy seemed to be spending most of her time avoiding her. It wasn't until she saw the truth that we did, too.
Faith is Evil. No matter what she does, no matter what you read into her actions, in the end everything Faith does is for the sole benefit of one person; herself.
Despite the pain in his gut, and the pounding headache that made the simple act of walking a real challenge, a single thought burned in Alex's mind.
Who was this girl?
He had caught that glimpse of her earlier, and even then he'd thought that there was something different about her, but there had been no way to anticipate what she had just done. This girl, Faith, hadn't just beaten those two men. She had destroyed them. They might still be breathing, but that was the best that could be said for the pair after this tall, dark-haired fury had finished with them. He'd noticed that, too; she hadn't intended to leave either of the two alive. Until she saw Alex and Kelly watching her, she had been about to finish off Kurt, the muscle half of pair that had been fighting her. Even more disturbing, the way she'd handled herself, the almost casual manner with which she'd moved, made it clear that she had fought like that before. That she had killed men like those before.
Alex snuck a look at her now, noting how she was watching her surroundings carefully, even while providing a steadying hand to Kelly as they walked down the side of the darkened street. He didn't know where she came from, or what she wanted, but there was no doubt that this was an incredibly dangerous person. That being the case, he hadn't been inclined to argue with her when she announced that she would escort the two of them home.
Besides, neither he nor Kelly were very steady on their feet, just now. A little help was welcome at the moment. Now if he could just figure out a polite way to get rid of her once they'd reached the apartments….
A soft groan caught his attention, and he turned in time to see Kelly start to collapse. He lunged, trying to break her fall, but his battered body betrayed him, and he stumbled, unable to reach her… and Faith was there. The mysterious girl easily caught Kelly by the arms, holding her upright, and at the same time she pivoted and extended her leg, putting a foot underneath Alex's chest just as he was about to smack face-first into the asphalt. With a gentle but powerful movement, she used her foot to push him up, all but lifting him off of the ground with the force she exerted. All of this while effortlessly balancing on her other foot, and without letting go of the semi-conscious girl she was holding.
He concentrated on staying on his feet, trying to ignore the slight spinning of the world as she pulled back her leg. For a long moment he just stood there, staring at her in what was doubtless a slightly dazed manner.
"Hey. You okay?" She sounded concerned, her dark eyes scanning him up and down. "He must have hurt you worse than I thought."
Alex shook his head, moving forward and raising his hand to touch Kelly's face.
"I'm fine." He said absently. His girl was pale, and it wasn't the occasional spate of cold rain that was making her shiver uncontrollably. "Kelly? C'mon babe, wake up, please?"
Her eyes were closed, tears mingling with the rain on her face as she moved further into withdrawal. It was obvious that she couldn't make it any farther under her own power. Faith turned the girl she was holding, looking into her face.
"She's out." With a sigh, she bent slightly, and then picked Kelly up, cradling her in both arms. "So. How far to your place?"
Alex gestured vaguely down the street, still finding it difficult to stand and think clearly at the same time. Maybe Kurt really had rattled his brains a little with one of those punches to the jaw.
"Ah, around five blocks? Too far for you to carry her. Here, let me-" He tried to take Kelly from her, but was brushed aside as the girl started walking briskly up the street.
"'Sokay, I got her. Besides, you can barely walk yourself." She glanced over her shoulder at him. "Well?"
He had to walk fast to catch up with her. Of course, he expected that Faith could carry the other girl for maybe twenty or thirty yards; or a block or so at most. No matter how fit she was, the girl didn't have the build of a weight lifter, and Kelly was only a few inches shorter and around twenty pounds lighter than Faith herself. So he waited for her to slow down and ask for his help, or at least take a rest break.
It didn't happen. Faith just kept walking, with no visible sign that she was exerting herself at all. When they finally reached the apartment complex where he and Kelly were living, Alex was faced with a problem. He'd intended to thank the girl and part with her on the steps, so she wouldn't know in which apartment they were staying. That sort of caution was deeply ingrained in him. Now, though…. Not only did he still not feel well enough to carry Kelly up the two flights of stairs to their place, he felt like he owed Faith more than a simple thank you. Despite the likelihood that her trashing of the two men would bring down some serious trouble on them all, the girl really had been trying to help. She deserved something for that, if it was within his power to give.
He led the way upstairs, noting again the water-stained ceilings and the splintered, unsteadily wooden railings that enclosed the stairway. The building was rundown in a bad way, but even so it was too expensive for people like Kelly and him to rent. So he did cleanup around the place, and helped the maintenance man paint and do repairs. In exchange, the two of them were allowed to camp out in empty apartments that had not yet been rented. On those occasions when all of the units were occupied, they had to make do with a storeroom in the basement. Currently, they were on the third and highest floor, and his head was spinning fiercely by the time he managed to climb up the last run of stairs. As he fumbled with the keys, he saw that Faith was still holding Kelly easily, not even out of breath from the climb.
Who was this girl?* * * * *
The boy, Alex, finally got the door open, holding it so that Faith could get through without bumping the girl's head or feet on anything. As much as she hated to admit it, even to herself, her arms were really getting tired. It was painfully obvious that it had been most of a year since she'd had a good workout, or even a decent meal. Still, there was no way she was going to show weakness in front of someone; especially a pair of nobodies like these. Ignoring the growing ache in her arms, she continued to hold the girl as she looked around.
He flipped a light switch by the door before coming the rest of the way in and closing it behind him.
"Yeah, we like it."
The room was nothing but bare white walls and a hardwood floor. Their footsteps echoed as he led her through a doorway and into a slightly smaller room that was similarly empty of furniture. It was not, however, completely empty. Against the far wall lay a backpack and three cloth carry sacks, and next to them was an unrolled sleeping bag. It had seen better days; it seemed slightly misshapen, and there were several crudely repaired tears visible. Faith carried the girl over and gently deposited her there. Stepping back, she twisted from side to side in an attempt to loosen the cramping muscles in her back. The guy knelt beside his girlfriend and stroked her face, apparently reassuring himself that she was still alive.
Watching that, the tender way he touched, and then kissed her, made Faith uncomfortable. It reminded her too much of the way Buffy had been treating her new boy-toy, Riley. Before she could stop it, her mind skipped back to when it had been Angel on the receiving end of B's gentle ministrations. It was beyond her understanding, the way the older Slayer could feel that way about two different men and have the emotion be genuine in both cases. Faith's own certainty that any declaration of love was at its core nothing but bullshit was stressed even further when confronted with the Buffy situation.
Crap. There she went again, thinking of something, of someone, that she should already have put behind her. Angry with herself, she turned away from the two kids (ignoring the fact that both of them were nearly enough her own age) and wandered through a doorway. It led to a short hallway, with a worn and filthy carpet covering the floor. From there, doors opened into another, smaller bedroom, and a musty-smelling bathroom. The other end of the hall seemed to lead through a tiny kitchen and then out into the front room. She decided on the bathroom, entering and closing the door behind her. After using the toilet (relieved that she hadn't had to go find a gas station or something to make a pit-stop), she spent a long minute looking into the mirror. The last time she'd looked, it had been Buffy staring back from the reflection. Now she was back to being her old self again; a tall girl, with pale skin, dark hair and darker eyes. A weary-looking face, though she was pretty enough, with faded and smudged make-up, and faint smears of dirt visible around the edges.
Dirt. Yeah, she was dirty, all right. Dirty in a way that soap and water could never make clean again.C'mon Faith, stop screwing around. Just go out there, get him to tell you who around here will buy this smack you've got in your pockets, then kill his ass. Do him and his girlfriend real quick and quiet, then catch a few hours sleep in the spare room. No one knows where you are; it'll be safe enough to get a little rest before heading out tomorrow.
She stared at her face in the mirror, looking for something. Maybe she was looking for the face of the girl that had done things like that, and even worse, while working for the Mayor. The face looked the same, but somehow she didn't feel like that girl.What is this? Is something wrong with me?
For the first time, she considered the possibility that she'd suffered some kind of permanent brain damage in that fall from the rooftop, something that her healing couldn't fix. Go on you stupid slut! Get out there and kill them! Or don't you remember what happened the last time you tried to act like one of them? Like her?
Those dark eyes staring back out of the mirror were tinged with old pain; they looked a lot like what she'd seen in the faces of the boy and his girl. Resisting the urge to put her fist through the image of her face in the mirror, she opened the door and went back out into the hall. Murmuring voices let her know that the girl was awake again.
Faith shook her head silently; she'd been wrong about this whole thing. Killing these two would leave a trail; it would be like putting up a flashing neon sign saying 'Hey! Buffy! Watchers! Come and get me!'. The smart play would be to lay low until morning, then try and hunt up a dealer on her own. She knew how things at street level worked, she could probably find who she needed without stirring up any more trouble. Probably.
As for the two kids…. She doubted that they would say anything about her to the cops. They were probably scared shitless of her. The memory of their expressions when she'd beaten the two thugs back under the highway was still clear in her mind. They thought she was a monster. They weren't the first to think it, but it still bothered her more than she cared to admit. Better for everybody if she just vanished, and left them alone.
She paused only for a moment to unzip her pack and refold her denim jacket more tightly before stuffing it inside. The stolen duster would do much better for now; its leather offered at least some degree of protection from the rain, even if it would do little to keep her warm. She walked back into the front room, dodging around a pile of paint cans and other stuff to reach the door. She was reaching for the knob when she heard the guy call her name from behind her.
She turned and stared at him.
"What?" It came out sounding harsh, but that was how she was feeling at the moment. She was tired, and half-pissed at the world in general, and so hungry that her knees were a little unsteady. None of which put her in the mood for long goodbyes.
The boy drew up short, giving her a wary look.
"I just wanted to thank you. For earlier, and for helping with Kelly." He glanced back towards the room where she lay, then turned back to face Faith. "I couldn't have gotten her back here by myself. I owe you."
She shrugged it off.
"Forget it. I was just hoping somebody else would try and beat you up so I'd get to fight again. Looks like I'm outta luck."
He actually grinned a bit at that.
"I can only hope." An awkward silence followed, and she narrowed her eyes as she watched him. He didn't have any idea how close he'd come to dying tonight, and not at the hands of those two jokers under the bridge. For him to be facing her now, obviously searching for the words to ask her something…. She had a feeling that she knew what he was going to ask from her, and the answer was definitely going to be no. If he thought that she was just going to give his junkie girlfriend any of the stuff she'd gotten off of that dealer-
"Listen. If you need somewhere to crash, for tonight, then… it would be okay if you stayed here. If you wanted to, I mean."
That… wasn't the question she'd been expecting.
"You'd be okay with me being here?" Psycho killer in the same house with you, not the way to get a good night's sleep, man.
His eyes were still wary when he looked at her, but there was an underlying determination there, too.
"I owe you. It wouldn't be right to let you leave after you helped us. It's little enough, really. If there were anything else I could do, to help you…."
She stood there in the doorway, torn for a moment between accepting the offer and sticking with her earlier resolve to leave them in peace. Staying here would be wrong. Faith herself was powerful enough to survive anything that came down on her, but these two lambs were as helpless as… well, lambs. Only a very selfish, utterly self-absorbed bitch would take advantage of them. She told herself that… and it didn't matter.
Faith pulled the door closed and let the strap of the carry bag slip off of her shoulder.
"Okay then. Cool. I'll stay for tonight." She was still wondering about his motives; she couldn't help it, it was the way her life had shaped her. "If you really want to make me happy, tell me you've got something to eat in this place." She didn't feel shame at asking for something to eat, even when neither he nor the girl looked like they got food on a regular basis. As far as she was concerned, they owed her. Not just for the rescue earlier, either. She'd come here to kill them, and then decided not to. Their lives belonged to her now, whether they knew it or not. Next to that, a couple of sandwiches didn't count for a lot.
Unfortunately, Alex just spread his hands, looking suddenly embarrassed.
"Sorry, no. We don't cook or anything." He turned and walked into the kitchen and started opening cabinet doors. "There might be some crackers, or something here, someplace."
She sighed, slipping off the longcoat as she shuffled after him.
"Nope, that won't do it." He looked up from where he was crouched, peering into a cabinet, and she dropped the coat on the counter before pressing her palm meaningfully against her bare stomach. The belly that was shown off so well by her scanty top wasn't just flat; it was concave. It had been growling loudly a few hours earlier; now it just ached, in a tightly clenched way. "I need some real food, and lots of it." Digging into the pockets of her stolen coat, she pulled out the small wad of cash that the Zack guy had been carrying. It didn't take long to count. "I've got some money now, at least. Is there anywhere to eat around here?"
He looked at the money, and she watched him out of the corner of her eye. He seemed like a decent enough guy, but this kind of life could make anyone desperate. Maybe even desperate enough to try taking her on, despite what he'd seen her do. He looked away from the small pile of bills, meeting her eyes as she turned to face him.
"Actually, I know a great place just down the street. I do some work sometimes for the guy who runs it. I can take you, after I get Kelly settled."
Faith nodded thoughtfully.
"Okay. I'll wait."
He went back into the bedroom, where she could detect the faint moans coming from the other girl. The girl seemed to be in a bad way, and she wasn't going to get better. Unless…. Faith looked again at the money. Eighty-seven dollars. Not much at all, not for a dealer doing business. She stuffed it into her jeans pockets, ignoring the fact that her clothes were still wet from the rain. Turning the leather coat over and digging into the inner pockets, she felt what had to be… yep. Making sure the boy was still in the other room, she drew forth a tiny cellophane packet of white powder. The man had flashed one of these at her, right before she'd trashed him. Emptying the pockets onto the counter, she ended up with more than thirty of the little baggies, each worth maybe ten or twenty dollars. If she could find somebody to take these off of her hands, then she would be in decent shape, money-wise. Another week or so of traveling would get her a comfortable distance from Sunnydale, and then she could try and come up with some long-range plans. She was putting the stuff back into the coat's spacious pockets when the low voices from the next room caught her attention again. Moving quietly, she went to stand in the doorway.
Looking in on them, she watched as the boy sat there with the girl's head in his lap. She was sweating profusely, but he reached out and covered her with an old green blanket, tucking it in around her body.
"Alex? Are we home?"
He nodded, bending to kiss her lightly on her forehead.
"We're home. It's okay now."
She stared up at him, and her expression was confused.
"You're hurt." She raised a hand to his face, the trembling fingers tracing the swelling bruise along the side of his mouth. "Did you get in a fight? I can't remember…."
He took her hand in his and squeezed it gently.
"It wasn't too bad. Someone showed up to help us. Everything will be fine. Try and sleep."
The girl's eyes closed, but she was wracked by a round of shivers that lasted for a long minute. The boy just sat there, a bleak expression on his face as he stroked her brown-blonde hair.
Faith stood there in the doorway, wondering at the odd feeling that was making itself known, eclipsing the hunger and fatigue of a minute earlier. This guy and his girlfriend were nothing to her, not really. She could find a dozen just like them in any city. Hell, she could probably find a thousand of them within a few miles of here. It was really sweet how they were in love and stuff (yeah, right), but that wouldn't help them survive. Faith had been here, or at least a place just like it, before the Slayer thing, and she knew the score. These two wouldn't last much longer. The girl's habit would drag them both down, if it didn't kill her first. They just weren't tough enough to outlast the street, not forever.
Nobody could fight it forever. Sooner or later, the darkness always won. She knew that for a fact.
So why was she feeling sorry for them? Nobody had ever felt sorry for Faith, when she was the one drowning in the filth and hopelessness. Why should things be any different for these two?
Faith became aware of something in her clenched fist, and she looked down in surprise. Her subconscious mind must be trying to tell her something. The guy, Alex, knew she had it, but he hadn't asked her. Too proud, maybe, determined to make his own way no matter what. She could respect that. If he really cared about his girl, though, it wouldn't be long before he broke down and came begging. She considered that for a moment, then made a decision.
"Hey." He looked up at her, startled. He took care not to disturb the girl, though. "I was just thinking. I'd kind of like to clean up, maybe use your shower, before we go eat. That okay with you?"
He nodded absently, looking back down at the girl he held.
"Sure. Help yourself."
Faith rubbed at her nose, then glanced again at what she held.
"The thing is, these are the only clothes I've got. I was wondering if I could borrow some." He looked up again, puzzled, and she went on. "I don't think anything of hers-" A glance at the comatose girl. "-would fit me. Is there anything of yours I could use? Just till these dry out?"
He looked at her uncertainly, and she wondered if he thought she was coming on to him. Not that he wasn't cute or anything; he was, though a little on the short and skinny side for her taste. He finally found his voice again.
"All right. I think I have some clean jeans here somewhere-"
"'Kay. And I don't want you to think I'm some kind of charity case, or anything. I hate it when people feel sorry for me." No lie there. "So I'll pay you for them. Kinda a rental deal." He opened his mouth, doubtless to tell her she could keep her money, so she tossed him the thing she had been holding in her hand. The little packet of white powder landed on the sleeping bag next to him. He looked at it for a few seconds before raising his eyes to hers.
Faith met his gaze steadily.
"Think that'll cover it?" She asked softly. He nodded silently, his hand still caressing Kelly's hair. "Okay then. Give me thirty minutes and then we'll get going."
* * * * *
She ended up taking her own clothes into the shower with her. If she was going to put them on again tomorrow, she might as well clean them as best she could. A thorough rinsing in the sink got the worst of the dirt off, and hopefully the accumulation of sweat, too. When they were as clean as possible under the circumstances, she wrung the water out of them, being careful not to use too much force and rip the damp fabric. Hanging the jeans and top over the rod that held the shower curtain, she stepped inside and turned her attention to cleaning herself. Fortunately, there was both soap and shampoo, and she made good use of both. The water never got as hot as she would have liked, even with the cold tap turned all the way off, but hey, you couldn't have everything.
As she went about the task of cleaning up, she found her mind wandering. This city, wherever it was, wasn't the place for her. She knew that much for certain, though she couldn't have said how she knew. Wherever it was that she was headed, it was still ahead of her."The problem, Faith, is that there won't be a place in the world for you, anymore."
Her whisper was barely audible over the hiss of the shower, but it was loud enough to drown out the voice in her head.
"You were wrong. I cared about you, as much as I knew how to care, but you were wrong about that part." "Once I'm gone, your days are just plain numbered."
It came out as a shout, and she found herself quivering with barely-contained tension, fists clenched. From just outside the bathroom she heard Alex's voice.
"Faith? Is anything wrong?"
He sounded genuinely concerned, and for some reason that nearly pushed her over the edge into violence. She took a deep, shuddering breath, staring at the mildew-stained shower curtain before answering.
"No." Her voice was strangled and hoarse with the effort it took not to scream at him. Another breath, then. "No, I'm fine, thanks."
Several seconds passed before his faint "All right." came faintly to her ears. The water began to cool, but she stayed where she was, eyes closed and fists pressed to her forehead.
"I'm fine. It's gonna be okay." The softly spoken words sounded less certain that she had intended. Alex probably told his girlfriend the same thing, that everything would be okay. Maybe she even believed him. Faith wasn't sure she believed it when she said it to herself. She tried again. "I am the Slayer." But that's a lie, isn't it?
"I'm… a Slayer. I matter." Better, though not as dramatic, somehow. Alex and Kelly loved each other, or at least pretended to. No doubt they thought that mattered, too, but it was unlikely that the big, cold world gave a damn either way. She shook her head angrily. "No, this is different. I'm stronger than they are, better than they are. I'll make it." She opened her eyes and lowered her hands, looking around at the small, dingy room. "I might have started out in a place like this, but I won't end up here. No way."
The water had turned icy, and she leaned down to turn off the tap. As sudden silence washed around her, that warm, kindly voice uttered a final whisper into her ear. "Just because it's over for my Faith, doesn't mean she can't go out with a bang."
* * * * *